GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Eight people in Montana are receiving treatment to prevent rabies after a middle school student found a bat at home and brought it to a science class in a bag, exposing up to 150 other children to the potentially deadly disease, health officials said.
The student's family of seven and a classmate who handled the bat Tuesday at North Middle School in Great Falls have started a series of shots to ward off the disease, officials said. Rabies is transmitted through saliva, most often through bites and scratches, and it can be fatal if it is not treated soon after exposure.
The school district is notifying the families of students believed to have been exposed to the bat while they were on the bus or in the classroom. The student who brought in the animal released it in a field before officials could test it for rabies.
The student's mother found the bat in the basement of her Great Falls home on Tuesday morning and put a container over the top of it that the student discovered, according to epidemiologist Elton Mosher with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services' Communicable Disease Control Bureau.
Because most of the family was sleeping when the bat was found, health officials could not rule out that it had flown into another room and bitten someone.
"Bats can bite you and you won't even be able to tell — the punctures are so small," Mosher said.
The student then brought the bat to a science teacher in a plastic bag. The teacher put it in a box and kept it in the classroom for the day, sending it home with the student to be released, Tom Moore, assistant superintendent for secondary schools in Great Falls, told The Great Falls Tribune (http://gftrib.com/1GBdPNm).
The teacher involved could face disciplinary action, Moore said. The adult should have taken the bat away so it could have been sent to a lab for rabies testing, health officials said.
At some point, at least one other student touched the bat. The youth said that when he did, it moved and startled him, the boy's mother told the newspaper.
Cascade City-County Health Department officials got involved after a student posted a picture of the bat on social media. By then, it had been released.
Mosher said anyone who touched the bat should report it to the county health department immediately. Rabies is 99 percent fatal once symptoms occur, which include worsening neurologic signs and partial paralysis, he said.